Trouble with DeLay: While the Indictment of Rep. Tom DeLay May Be a Partisan "Witch Hunt," the Former House Majority Leader Has a Lot to Answer For

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"Behind every great fortune is a crime," wrote French novelist Honore de Balzac in words that could have been penned by Karl Marx. That invidious assessment is in need of a crucial clarification: every political fortune is built on crime--generally in the form of what Frederic Bastiat called "official plunder." When viewed in that light, Balzac's cynical maxim may apply to the ongoing travails of Representative Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the former House majority leader.

Within a week, Rep. DeLay was indicted by two separate grand juries in Texas. The first indictment accused DeLay of conspiring to funnel illegal campaign contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas state legislature; the second charged the congressman with conspiracy to commit money-laundering. The congressman is accused of redirecting $190,000 in corporate campaign donations through an arm of the Republican National Committee to 2002 Republican state election campaigns in Texas. This would constitute a violation of state law, which does not permit campaign donations from corporate interests.

According to the indictment, a group called Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) raised money directly from corporate contributors and then donated the corresponding amount to a branch of the Republican National Committee, which then disbursed the $190,000 to state legislative candidates.

Predictably, Congressman DeLay reacted to the first indictment by accusing Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is building the case, of being a "rogue prosecutor" conducting a "partisan witch hunt." He also insists that the funds were transferred from Washington to Texas without his approval. During an August meeting with Earle, DeLay admitted--although not under oath--that he was aware that the money raised by TRM-PAC was being routed to state candidates by way of the Republican National Committee; however, he insists that he was advised that the process was legal.

Forced by Republican Party rules to surrender his leadership position, Rep. DeLay has been ordered to appear in an Austin, Texas, courtroom on October 24. Understandably, supporters of the Democratic Party--and their allies in the media--relish the prospect of DeLay's humiliation. However, Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's defense attorney, warned that "anyone expecting to see DeLay handcuffed and paraded before cameras in a so-called 'perp walk' will be disappointed," reported the Houston Chronicle.

Private vs. Political Perpetrators

It may seem excessive to heap such public disgrace on an individual accused of what could be construed as a technical violation of an obscure bookkeeping regulation. But it should be remembered that Congressman DeLay himself has endorsed the ritual humiliation of corporate leaders accused of financial misdeeds.

"We need to strip corrupt corporate kingpins of their ill-gotten gains," blustered DeLay in a June 2002 press conference. "We're going to shackle them and take them to jail. We're taking the mansion. We're draining the accounts. And we're coming after the yacht." The congressman's comments were made in reaction to disclosures of accounting fraud by the corporate leadership of such firms as Enron and WorldCom--and the widespread perception that the Republican Party displayed an improper sympathy to corrupt corporate interests.

DeLay and other GOP congressional leaders, for purposes of partisan political advantage, decided to act "on the premise that 'business is theft,'" recalls former Treasury Department official Paul Craig Roberts, by enacting--with DeLay's enthusiastic support--the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. That measure effectively "tarred all corporate executives with the misbehavior of a few," Roberts continued, by permitting the federal government to micromanage and second-guess all corporate financial operations--in essence, turning bookkeeping errors or inaccurate but honest financial projections into prosecutable felonies. …